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Ashley Judd Wants You to Stop Talking About Her Face (and Rightfully So)

Ashley Judd
Getty Images, CTV

In an open letter published today, “The Missing” star Ashley Judd called out the duplicitous media for simultaneously pandering to and vilifying self-conscious women. The genesis: There’s been an awful lot of talk lately about her “puffy face,” and the actress rightfully pinpoints a larger sexism issue.

The Daily Beast ran the letter, in which Judd says:

“…the conversation was pointedly nasty, gendered, and misogynistic and embodies what all girls and women in our culture, to a greater or lesser degree, endure every day, in ways both outrageous and subtle. The assault on our body image, the hypersexualization of girls and women and subsequent degradation of our sexuality as we walk through the decades, and the general incessant objectification is what this conversation allegedly about my face is really about.”

Homegirl just nailed it. The letter is a brutally eloquent assault on a media (this article at Buzzfeed, for example) that has long had a problem with women. Is it just misogyny, though? Gossip rags seem largely female dominated these days, and as Judd notes, this is an issue that involves both sexes:

“That women are joining in the ongoing disassembling of my appearance is salient. Patriarchy is not men. Patriarchy is a system in which both women and men participate. It privileges, inter alia, the interests of boys and men over the bodily integrity, autonomy, and dignity of girls and women. It is subtle, insidious, and never more dangerous than when women passionately deny that they themselves are engaging in it.”

Judd details several examples from various online outlets that accuse her of having work done (the truth: she has been ill and taking steroid injections — not that it’s anyone’s business but her own), engage in name-calling, and, in the case of at least one website, suggest that her husband might be looking for a new wife because of her change in appearance.

As someone who recaps Judd’s new show ‘Missing’ on a weekly basis and would probably go as far as to describe herself as something of an Ashley Judd fan (what can I say? I was raised in the 90s in a female-positive, movie-loving household with a mom that digested Dean Koontz faster than Activia), I am appalled at suggestions that Judd is anything less than majestic. The woman ages more gracefully than Benjamin Button.

This media issue is a troubling one, with magazines and now the fingertip-readiness of the internet cultivating a world in which women are sold to, manipulated, controlled, and shamed. Is it the blatant, open sexism of decades past? No, media has evolved and adapted, and now they’ve included women in their quest for female oppression. We are engaged in self-immolation wrapped in the glossy, airbrushed comforts of perfume inserts and body-conscious quizzes.

Furthermore (and Judd points this out as well), how is her puffy face considered newsworthy? Schadenfreude dominates newstands with magazines asking us to engage in gross guess-who games with cropped photos of mysterious cellulite and double chins. Surprise, celebrities are people too with flaws and weird stuff they feel uncomfortable about; the media wants you to take joy in picking them apart, and thus you feel more comfortable in dissecting your fellow woman in general, and naturally, yourself. The worse we all feel, the more magazines we buy that tell us how to look, feel, and be better (usually to impress “that special guy”).

And sure, sometimes they have features on “kick-butt women,” (like Judd herself, even) but it always feels like there’s an asterisk attached, like “Here are some empowering women, but do note the impeccable airbrush work and how you will never measure to this image we’ve manufactured,” flip the page and check out that Ben & Jerry’s ad, but just in case you eat too much, here’s a five page spread on toning your thighs and tips on low calorie alcoholic beverages for when you binge drink your bad self esteem into oblivion with your cat at home alone on Friday night because no one will ever love you — Buy some shoes!

Needless to say, Judd’s letter effectively tackles this issue, but will the media ever take heed? Our obsession with celebrity appearance is merely an echo of our own body image problems, and a problem with Ashley Judd’s face is a problem with every woman’s face — so knock it off.

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